If you’re the proud parent of a puppy or kitten, chances are you’ve been on the receiving end of some play biting. Play biting, or mouthing, is a normal part of your cat or dog’s development. In this blog we outline why this behaviour is normal, and also how to discourage your furry friend from the behaviour.
What is play biting and mouthing?
Puppies and kittens tend to discover things with their mouths and may gently bite on your hand or clothing to let you know they’re feeling playful, overstimulated, or when they need something (e.g., to be let out or to be fed).
Although mouthing is still a form of biting, they are not the same. If you are concerned your animal is displaying aggression or biting, it should be handled differently from mouthing. Seek the assistance of a positive reinforcement trainer.
While mouthing is normal and instinctive behaviour for young animals, boundaries should be encouraged and appropriate bite inhibition in place before your furry friend gets older. Adult animals that exhibit this behaviour may get carried away and accidentally cause injury or alarm.
Here are ways you can work on your dog’s play biting:
Ways to decrease play biting and mouthing
Let out a yelp
When young dogs play bite other dogs, they learn what’s too much pressure when the other dog lets out a yelp. You can apply the same teaching method by letting out a loud “ouch!” and stepping away. When your dog or cat resumes gentle play, reward your furry friend with praise and affection.
Toys can be a good way of redirecting your animal’s mouthing away from you. Make sure you reserve time each day for exercise and playtime with your furry friend. You can direct them away from your body by tossing toys away from you or by purchasing toys that are mounted and hang or dangle. If your dog gets overly excited when playing or tries to grab your hand, take a time out, which teaches them that any inappropriate contact to skin or clothing isn’t rewarded. Your furry friend will soon learn that playing gently will lead to more playtime, while playing too rough makes playtime stop.
If you have started teaching a “leave it” or “out” cue with your dog, this is a great way to generalize that behaviour to other things.
Teach new behaviours or cues
Teach your dog to tug, or play in other appropriate manners rather than mouthing, or ensure your cat or dog has other appropriate play outlets. Some examples include:
- Playing with other well-socialized animals
- Teaching a behaviour that is incompatible with biting, such as holding or picking up a toy, catching a ball, sitting, or even rolling over – any task that they can’t do while also biting.
- Encourage other species-specific behaviours that increase enrichment and lessen the opportunity to play inappropriately, like enrichment games or food puzzles, foraging, digging or scratching, chase, etc.
Keep at it and your furry will be out of the habit of mouthing before you know it! If you need further assistance, look for a positive reinforcement-based dog trainer in your area.